National Interest Demands UPA, NDA Forge Common Stand on N-deal

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) Brajesh Mishra has risen above parochial considerations and come out strongly in favor of the India-US nuclear deal. Initially he was opposed to the deal on two considerations. The first is whether India's strategic programme would be capped short of its assessed requirement. Secondly will India be able to conduct a nuclear test if it became necessary.

In the `Devil's Advocate' programme of Karan Thapar on April 27 he has now asserted that he is satisfied on both grounds on the basis of assurances given to him at the highest level and it would be against our national interest if the Indo-US deal were not to be signed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Brajesh Mishra may not today be high in the hierarchy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) period he was the main repository of Indian nuclear strategic policy. The size of the Indian strategic arsenal and pace of its buildup were secrets kept solely by the prime minister, the national security adviser (NSA), the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the chief of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). They were not shared with cabinet ministers.

This was so during the NDA regime and also during the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. Therefore when Mishra says in the interview "After the talks I have had with various representatives of the government of India at a fairly high level and some scientists, I am convinced that there is not going to be any major impact on the strategic programme through the deal -- this deal does not stop us from continuing our strategic programme," this cannot be challenged by any other more knowledgeable member of the NDA. Therefore there is no substance in the allegations, from people who have no access to facts, that the 123 agreement with the United States was a conspiracy to cap the Indian nuclear arsenal short of our requirements.

Brajesh Mishra is equally clear about India's right to conduct tests, if it considered these essential in future. While he considers that it is highly probable that a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will be revived by the next US administration, he highlights that the CTBT is equal for all and there is no discriminatory treatment in it. If under those circumstances India wants to conduct a test, Mishra points out, there is no bar to India undertaking the tests. He adds, "Of course, exercising that option means a lot of hardships.... economic and otherwise -- because sanctions will inevitably follow .... but we are not barred from undertaking tests if we are ready to pay the costs of sanctions etc."

Mishra has also said that the three-stage programme India has in nuclear energy (including fast breeder and thorium conversion to uranium-233) will suffer a setback if India did not sign the 123 agreement. Recently AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar said that our indigenous uranium supply would be adequate to support only 10,000 MW of nuclear energy generation. Dr. M. R. Srinivasan, a former chairman of the AEC, has pointed out that at least 50,000 MW power generation is needed to sustain a fast breeder programme and to use thorium. Therefore it is obvious that there can be no three-phased programme unless India is liberated from the present international technology denial regime.

The clear stand of Brajesh Mishra confronts the NDA leadership, particularly prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, with a dilemma. Advani cannot brush aside and ignore the arguments of the former NSA who is the best informed person on nuclear matters among the NDA people. Nor can he ignore the warnings of the foremost nuclear scientists of the country about the dim future of development of nuclear energy in the country in the absence of international cooperation. Will the party which prides itself of having made India a nuclear weapon power will now, through its opposition to 123 agreement on political partisan grounds, allow the Indian nuclear energy programme to wind down in the absence of international cooperation? While the nitpickers - opponents of the 123 agreement - write learned theses on the impact of the Hyde Act on Indian sovereignty, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher has clearly asserted that India is bound only by the 123 agreement and not by the Hyde Act which is meant to give the US president the power to issue the one-time waiver for civil nuclear cooperation with India, though India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT).

It is now for the NDA leadership to make a choice whether it would listen to their own former NSA (who also says that he had never been consulted by the party) or they will side with the partisan stands of people who do not have full information and who are not in touch with ground realities in respect of our civil nuclear development. Advani has a legitimate grievance. The UPA leadership did not take him into confidence but dealt with Brajesh Mishra. That was because on strategic nuclear issues prime ministers have always chosen to restrict the information to the very limited few and Brajesh Mishra was the point of continuity in respect of nuclear strategic information.

Unfortunately it would appear there has not been adequate interaction between the NDA leadership and its former NSA. While this consideration applies to the issue of safeguarding India's strategic programme, on the future of the Indian civil nuclear energy programme and on the application of the Hyde Act and the ground realities about our reactor performance (today they are running at 50 percent capacity) the UPA leadership should have taken the NDA leadership into full confidence.

There is no reason why, even at this stage, the UPA leadership should not invite the NDA leadership for a free and frank discussion on such a vital issue. In politics there are no permanent enemies and permanent friends. The Congress may be beholden to the Left today for support as it was to the BJP in 1991-92. There were times the Communists called Jawaharlal Nehru as the lackey of imperialists and CPI-M cadres were imprisoned along with Jana Sangh leaders during the emergency regime of Indira Gandhi. Today statesmanship and commitment to national interests call for the leaderships of the UPA and the NDA to get together to forge a common stand on this issue.

(K. Subrahmanyam is India's pre-eminent analyst on foreign policy and security issues. He can be contacted at ksubrahmanyam51@gmail.com)


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